Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A glimpse of Lisbon

Call it an honest mistake or an unprecedented action on my behalf, but I royally made a snafu on planning our winter vacation. Somehow I was under the impression that our last day of school was on Dec 22nd and thus I made reservation to fly out the night of. A week before break an email was sent with the calendar detailing the final week with the last day being DEC 21st. You could hear a pin drop, the earth stood still on its axis, and Sarah Palin could have confessed she was a lesbian atheist democrat. The shock was severe and I wept in silence in the middle of class looking at my computer screen.

When other co-workers asked when we were leaving I regretfully stated "the 22nd" as their eyebrows rose. They were as confused by my systematic error as I was. But all was not lost, our last evening was a joyous one spent with our dear friends.

The following day we hopped on a Cairo bound train and met up with our steady driver Mohammed who safely escorted us to the airport. We checked in our luggage and boarded our uneventful flight to Lisbon. (I won't mention our layover in Madrid where I slid on chicken vomit at 4 am while looking for a row seats to camp out on.)

Hello Lisbon at 830 am. Our taxi driver took us to Pensao Londres where we would joyfully spend most of our nights in Lisbon. Our room was perfect for our needs and the staff helpful and accommodating making sure your stay was a pleasant one. While we waited for our room to get ready we hit the town to enjoy what would be a rare day of full sunshine. We explored the neighborhoods of central Lisbon; Barrio Alto, Chiado, Castelo, Baixa, and Alfama.

Below is our Lisbon experience on 3 different occasions; the beginning, middle, and end. A perfect city to bookend...perhaps one day live.

Rua Augusta Arch leading into central Lisbon.
Tram 28 will take you through the street of Baixa and up the hill through Alfama only to get stuck behind a double parked car picking up their Bolo Rei order or a truck dropping off cases of Super Bock (the local beer). Needless to say it was an easy and inexpensive way to sightsee.
In Mexico/San Diego we have Rosca and in Portugal they have Bolo Rei. Either way this bastard son of the fruitcake is a seasonal loaf topped with dried fruit and nuts. It starts making an appearance around Christmas. Back home the Mexican bakeries (such as Panchitas-our favorite) sell the bread on Three Kings Day (January 6) and each loaf has a baby Jesus or two in it. Typically there are lines out the door while the smart customers pre-order theirs. If your slice has the Baby Jesus traditionally you are obligated to host a party on February 2nd, El Dia de la Candelaria. If you're fan the good news is that in Lisbon and maybe the rest of Portugal you can buy the loaf weeks prior sans the plastic Baby Jesus...though our friend Sandra (you'll learn about her more in our next post) did tell us that the Bolo Rei did once have the toy but a law banning it was passed since people choked on it. I bought us a loaf on Christmas Eve, only to find ants feasting on it the following morning.
The narrow streets on Barrio Alto.
Near our room was a park which overlooked the city, castle, and river. 
View of Castelo de Sao Jorge; the Moorish castle overlooking Lisbon.
The park also has a fountain...

...and beer...

...and the tram that takes you down the hill to city center past the cool street art (see the previous post).

A perfect and sensible way to spot if your date partakes in domestic violence. You hit your partner, you get a wrist bracelet.

The view of the 25 de Abril Bridge from our hotel room. The bridge crosses the Tejo River and connects Lisbon with Almada.

Walking around Alfama (home of Fados-a genre of dramatic early 19th century Portuguese music that you either love of hate).
Se Cathedral aka Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa 
 A day time view of the 25 de Abril Bridge from our hotel room, a little bit of San Fran in Lisbon.
View of the tram tracks between Barrio Alto and the city center, a perfect way to get that heart rate going in the morning.

Danish artist Jens Galschiot created several (27) bronze sculptures to bring attention at the hopes of ending homelessness.  Lisbon is hosting a handful of them.

The life sized sculptures are prominently displayed in Rossio (Parca Dom Pedro IV).
Guns of Castelo de Sao Jorge.

Houses right below Castelo de Sao Jorge to get your voyeurism on.

More Castelo de Sao Jorge. The grounds to the castle were impressive and green and filled with cats. There is a wall that circles the grounds with homes and shops hocking food, beverages, and gifts. 

The Gothic vaults of Se Cathedral take on a Christ like face...maybe it is only me that see this.

Sardines in Baixa
Plenty of cans to choose from, if my dad could camp out here he'd just might. 
The boutique shops of Barrio Alto were unique and somewhat pricey, but well worth a glance. This one had electronic guts glued to the wall and painted white like a sprawling city. 

New Years Eve dinner was organized by a Couch Surfer at restaurant/bar in Barrio Alto (Mahjong). The communication between the organizer and the staff was comedy but nobody got hurt so everything turned out just fine.

In addition to bowl after bowl of white rice the meal ended with a plate of a chopped up corn cob, sliced can beets, and a pealed orange...now if someone intelligent could bottle this formula she or he just might be the next Paul Newman.
After dinner the pack moved down the hill to watch fireworks and live music at Praca do Comercio (the square) home to the lovely Rua Augusta Arch and Statue of King Jose I. Note the bottle and the glasses of sangria were taken from (smuggled in Ana's jacket!) the restaurant and properly returned at the end of the evening. Paulo and Ilda (to the right) took everything back, that's how the Portuguese roll.    

A little bit of firework action to ring in the new year.

It was quite the show!

Going to Portugal without going to a Fados show would like Adam without Eve. Our new friends Paulo and Ilda made reservations at the Caldo Verde in Barrio Alto. The evening started with a glass of Porto and appetizers (rustic bread, home-cured olives, presunto (dry-cured ham), and goat cheese). Next up was a bowl of caldo verde (a soup with onions, potato, kale, a hint of garlic and a piece of chorizo). The main course was Bacalhau (dried and salted cod fish) taken with a bottle of red from the Douro region. It was nice to eat a proper establishment once in awhile as Ana and I had most of our dinners on a hotel bed which consisted of fresh bread, olives, presunto, and a bottle of wine. The grapes are excellent here!      
Paulo and Ilda and like others we encountered in Portugal went out of their way to make you feel welcomed. After dinner (well past your bedtime) they drove us out to Belem to show us more of their city. For the most part they didn't know us and it says a lot about people who are willing to share their time with you. 

The Fados we heard were about bullfights, Lisboa, love, and life in general. We got to hear a sampling of four singers. One striking contrast I've seen in countries we have visited compared with the States is the respect and knowledge younger generations have for traditional music. I'm not sure if there is tradional music in America, does Margaritaville count?

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos aka Hieronymites Monastery is from the late Gothic era. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Yes, it was that long (that's what she said!)

Torre de Belem at night. I know I can't really see it either.

If you are blind, you're in luck. Not only do you get a model of Torre of Belem that you can touch, but you get a description in Braille. Now this is an example of a forward thinking and thoughtful society!

Padrao Dos Descobrimentos is a 52 meter swell of crusaders and navigators resting at the bank of the Tejo River (maybe there aren't crusaders but it rhymed nicely). However, there are prominent religious figures in the mix. Paulo said that you can take an elevator to the top and see the navigational map (below).
The view of the map and people. (borrowed image)

Ilda standing on the map.

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